The sleeper moves beneath the surface, slowly but surely limbering up its joints and focusing its lidless eyes on the place it knows its target to be. The source of all of its troubles. It can feel the rush as the other sleeping spirits stir, the pilot fish to its presence, spinning in freedom. With a thought, it sends them onwards to its destination.
“Bedlam, Ms Harker.” Mr Waits, a fat man in a pinstripe suit held his bowler hat awkwardly, turning it and flipping it as if it had to keep moving or it would explode. “Welcome to Bedlam. Now, if you’ll follow me, I’ll give you the tour.”
Janet Harker took a step forward to follow, then paused. This was the first turning point. Did she cling to a remnant of her old life, or did she make the break completely? The choice was finally up to her, not an order sent from higher up the chain of command. “Sorry, Mr Waits, but it’s Captain. Captain Harker.”
“Of course, Captain. I apologise for my momentary slip. Shall we proceed?” Waits placed the bowler hat atop his balding head, then began a march down the hallway. They emerged, after the customary small talk, into a cavernous chamber housing an eighteen foot statue of Knoxwood, “Now, this is the main atrium or as we like to call it, the Heart. Now, from the Heart you can access any of our main facilities. Either through the Eyes and Ears, our telecommunications centre in the east corner over there,” he said, gesturing towards one of the largest banks of screens Harker had ever seen. It was decked out like a mission control centre, with people swarming between desks like ants across the ground, shouting into headsets. “From there, we can access all of our facilities remotely. For actual travel, we have the Arteries. You have a question, Miss… Sorry, Captain?”
“You really take this body metaphor all the way, don’t you?” Harker asked, still boggling at the gleaming statue. Knoxwood cut an imposing figure, holding aloft the Sword of Mercy and the Staff of Vengeance. She couldn’t help but feel that it shouldn’t be here.
“But of course. Why would you not? There’s the Legs, our transport division, the Brain, for research and development, Mouth for broadcasting.” As Waits went through the list, he pointed towards the gateways for each one. “Arteries, as I mentioned, is our internal travel. Then of course,” he said with a smile, “We come to the Arms. Private contracting for military operations throughout the world.”
The sleeper howls silently, thrashing against the chains that keep it in place. It can sense a weakness in the links, the smallest fracture that will be its jailer’s undoing. It strains and pulls and eventually, the sleeper shifts. A grin passes across its mouth, impossibly full of teeth as a soundless howl races through the earth. The pilot fish howl in return, transferring just one thought. One goal.
“Bedlam, as you can imagine, can be quite confusing to the newcomer.” Waits had removed his bowler as they stepped into his office, hanging it up on a hatstand by the door. “After the events of HESSIAN, I would understand if you were to take a step back from the military world.”
Harker’s eyes narrowed. “HESSIAN was supposed to be above Top Secret. How do you…?”
Waits just chuckled. “Captain, what we don’t know about anything would be barely enough to fill the first page of that notebook in your pocket. But that’s what we offer here. Knowledge. Plus the capabilities to use that knowledge. We have everything you could want.”
“I want Castor.”
“I thought you might say that. He’s currently waiting in Bloodstream. That’s our…”
“I’m assuming that’s your medical division.”
“You’re as quick as they say, Captain. Yes, the Sergeant has been with us for a few weeks undergoing retrofit prostheses. The border campaign certainly took its toll on him.”
“That’s enough now, Mr Waits.” Harker leaned against the polished mahogany, very deliberately not sitting in the offered chair. “When would I start?”
Waits took a calendar from the wall and flicked through a few pages. “Well, we don’t appear to have any disasters scheduled for at least six months, so if you’d like to join us… Today?”
“What about all my things?”
“They’re already here. We set you up with a room in Epithelium.”
“Living in the skin. Wonderful. How did you know I’d take the job?”
“Miss Harker, if we didn’t believe with 99.999… I could go on for a while there. But if I were more than a shade from certain that you’d accept the position, you’d never have received the offer. Now, would you care to meet your strike team?”
The sleeper was no more. In its place was a creature that remembered once being a man. It, no longer able to believe in itself as a he, breathed deep and focused on its vengeance. It remember one thing for certain. The cause of all of its troubles. The Brain. But not just that. It was going to tear down the whole thing.
Bedlam would fall.
The Idiot in Tin Foil